Things I Learned about Writing From a Rummage Sale

I, for one, had high hopes. Fourteen families in our neighborhood banded together and held a rummage sale. We were expecting lots of people and lots of sales.

It didn’t work out that way.

So it goes with writing. Things don’t always work out the way I want them to.

Shivering in my garage waiting for buyers, I had time to reflect on how holding the rummage sale was teaching me three lessons about writing:

1. Value is in the Eye of the Buyer

I had a bin marked “all stuff $1.” In actuality, I would have taken a dollar for the whole pile, bin included. One of the items was an ancient (vintage 1990) video camera. Someone bought it, for $1. The right buyer.

Also for sale were two small silk purses. I was asking (you guessed it) $1. One woman sniffed when she heard the price. “I would have though a dime, at most a quarter.” Clearly the wrong buyer.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, it’s important to bear in mind the readers (translation: book buyers) are the ones who really count when trying to determine the merit of your work.

Some people will appreciate it, others won’t. Part of the trick is finding readers who will love what you write. Not everyone will value your prose, no matter how polished it is. And there are those who will love poorly written trash.

2. Relationships Matter

My husband (who turned out to be the big winner of the day) donated several items to the sale, including an old jigsaw. One man looked it over. I spent several minutes talking to him about the saw and answering what questions I could. He decided against it.

Monday morning he rang the doorbell. Had I sold the saw? He’d thought it over and decided to come back. I don’t think he would have bothered to come back had I been rude or curt. Since I’d left him with a good impression, and he was willing to come back. He also cheerfully paid the full price of $15.

Taking the time to cultivate readers is vital. There are so many other books to choose from. If a reader feels they know you, they’re more likely to give you a chance. If they don’t like you, it will be a hard sell to get them to even think about buying your books.

3. At the Risk of Stating the Obvious…There’s a lot of Competition out there

Our sale didn’t do so well, because the neighborhood next to ours (which is a bit more upscale) also had a community rummage sale. I know if I was shopping, that’s where I would have gone.

Another neighborhood having a sale wasn’t something we had any control over, and so it is in the writing world. We have no control over our competition. And there’s no escaping it.

So all that work in building relationships with readers is key to building a following. Like the ritzier neighborhood, it’s easier for established authors to get more attention.

But in the end, the work pays off. I didn’t sell as much as I liked, but ended up with a few hundred dollars I didn’t have before. And unloaded a bunch of junk, I mean stuff people were happy to take home.

So that’s it. Find the right readers, cultivate relationships with them, and figure out how to work around your competition.

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